Alcatraz Producer and Novelist ~ Daniel Pyne

Throughout his career, Daniel Pyne has moved freely between the television and feature worlds and the world of books. He acts as a visiting professor at the UCLA Graduate School of Film and a writing advisor for the Sundance Institute. At present, he is writing and co-producing JJ Abrams’ highly anticipated TV show Alcatraz on FOX. Click for more info on Daniel Pyne.

Daniel you wear plenty of writing hats. Which one is the most comfortable fit and why?

It’s not a matter of comfort as much as it is my good fortune to be able to pursue all these different kinds of storytelling. I like television for its immediacy, its serialized narrative, for the collaborative process it requires, (working with other writers, as well as filmmakers and crew, on multiple storylines, at the same time), and for the way it allows for the exploration of character through repetition – in much the same way we experience people in our lives, slowly revealing themselves over time. 

 I love movies for their size, their visual power, and for their economy, which requires a writer to pare down prose and dialogue to only what is absolutely necessary to tell the story. I also enjoy working with directors to craft a film that is both visual and richly textured. And I love novels for their purity of expression unmitigated by anyone or anything else, their breadth, the intimacy you can develop with a reader, the way words can create images and emotions that transcend the real and the concrete; at their best, novels soar.

Most of our readers are novelists. What can you tell us about writing for television/film that can help us become better novelists?

My theory, completely unsupported by any empirical evidence, is that the way people read is changing. Maybe it’s always changing, but certainly with the growth of film and television as the dominant cultural expression in the twentieth century, and the rapid rise of blogging and texting in this new century, the way people receive information and express themselves and process cultural mythology must mean that novelists need to adapt to new kinds of narrative. 

People have shorter attention spans. They’ve become used to processing information in a scattered, almost holographic way. I have a pet peeve about novelists turning their manuscripts into auditions for feature films, but I do think that the modern novel has to acknowledge that storytelling has been profoundly affected by the way film and television has, (sometimes detrimentally), altered the way we expect stories to engage us.

If there is one lesson you’ve taught to writing students over the years that you want them to GET, that you consider to be a key to writing success, what is it? Feel free to give us more than one.

Get a good chair.

It’s hard. Get over it.

Don’t give up.

Don’t settle — try to write as well as you possibly can. And then better than that, next time.

Write what you love to read.

Be willing to do it for free – because you’ll probably have to.

How has producing helped you as a novelist?

I don’t think it has any relationship to writing novels. Well, unless I wanted to self-publish, I guess. It does, however, get me out in the world with a wide variety of people and situations, rather than sitting alone at my desk trying to decide whether to use “said” or “explained.”

Do you find your multiple writing venues to be a challenge when you sit down to write a novel? How? What have you done to combat that?

For a long time, finding the time to write prose was difficult. I approach every piece I write with the same level of commitment, so if I have too much going on in the film world, I have no time for my fiction. Over the past decade I’ve made the effort to back off from television and carve out the time necessary to work on novels; the first one took years to finish, my second just a little more than a year.

What writing disciplines/tricks/habits have you developed that have helped you?

Somebody once told me that the secret to writing was staying in your chair. It’s pretty much true. The minute you get up, you can find a million things to distract yourself from going back to the page. Washing dishes. Throwing a ball to the dogs. Worrying about those cracks in the fireplace. Snacks. Napping. ESPN Sportscenter.

What is your favorite/most effective marketing tool?

I don’t have one. The novelist’s need for promotion, especially self-promotion, depresses me. I’d like to think that you could just write your tale, and when you are finished, people will read it — and that would be that. That’d be a fine world to live in.

Social media – career builder or time waster? How do you make it work for you ?

I don’t. It hasn’t. I really haven’t much engaged in it. For better or worse. I don’t think what I had for lunch is very interesting. (It was a Greek Salad, by the way. Heirloom tomatoes and olives and feta.) Am I wrong?

Time waster? Probably. But definitely not going away.